Insights
Expert Interview

Examining Nonpublic Schools and ESSA Program Engagement

February 7, 2024

Holly Bozeman

Are nonpublic schools making the best use of Title I funds to guarantee low-income students equitable services so that they are career- or college-ready? And what obstacles might exist preventing teachers from taking advantage of Title II professional development opportunities? These are some of the questions Westat answers through its evaluations of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grant programs, led by Holly Bozeman, MEd, a Westat Principal Research Associate.

Bozeman, with her extensive experience evaluating these programs in nonpublic schools in the District of Columbia and more recently in New York City, explains how these studies assist local education agencies (LEAs) in facilitating Title I/II services at these schools.

Q. What kind of information, beyond student academic achievements, do these studies provide?

A. The evaluations show the effectiveness and outcomes of the federal program and the LEAs’ approaches to implementing the Title IA program in nonpublic schools. They answer questions concerning the perceptions of and satisfaction with the program by students, parents, and teachers, and detail the long-term effects of putting in this effort for students. The studies also examine if the Title IIA funds designated for professional development are helping teachers stay involved and satisfied with their work, and if there are obstacles to their participation in these opportunities. The evaluations also provide insights regarding student behavioral outcomes and identify the factors that contribute to the alignment of goals with federal and district standards.

Q. Why are these studies important?

A. The ESSA requires that LEAs provide equitable services to eligible nonpublic school students, their families, and educators. Title II, Part A services have similar requirements, and students at nonpublic schools who qualify for federal support should get it, and their schools should be provided support for facilitating these services. Some LEAs need help monitoring this process and the eventual outcomes.

Q. Why do these schools need outside analytic support to conduct these studies?

A. While they are flush with data, some LEAs simply don’t have the time or capacity to analyze their data in a more concise and usable way and are seeking a strong partner to help them clean, organize, analyze, and make meaning of their existing data sources, in addition to finding new ways to gain insight about their programming. However, I wouldn’t say that these LEAs are solely looking for analytic support. They are also looking for a trusting relationship with an organization that can help them use data to support their efforts to create positive outcomes for their students.

Q. How does Westat strive to be that trusted partner to LEAs in performing these studies?

A.  We have worked with districts of varying sizes—both large and small.  Although the context and cultures are unique to each district, some of the challenges are the same. For instance, there are many key players involved, such as the LEA administrators, nonpublic school administrators and teachers, and both types of districts hire vendors to provide Title IA and Title IIA services. The number of vendors depends on the size of the LEA and the service model they’ve developed. It can take some time for Westat to establish itself as a partner with all these key players. But this partnership is important because it governs the quality of the data accessible to us.

Q. What capabilities does Westat bring to these evaluations?

A. Westat has a deep bench of technical and content expertise to support the unique missions and characteristics of the nonpublic school population. As a third-party evaluator, we bring a distinctively objective lens and lessons learned from various school districts with whom we have partnered. But most importantly, we bring ourselves. Many similar organizations have the skills to do this work, but I truly believe that my team and colleagues who have helped execute these evaluations make all the difference. This team has truly developed trusting relationships with these LEAs, and this is evidenced by the many years of collaboration we’ve sustained.

Q. How does Westat visually show the desired outputs and outcomes associated with program or policy theory of change?

A. We use logic models to illustrate how a combination of inputs, strategies and activities, and contextual factors such as parental involvement and home access to the internet can influence the extent to which desired outcomes are attained—as well as the range of data needed to assess progress toward those outcomes.

Q. What kinds of outcomes are you seeing as a result of these evaluations?

A. Although we can’t attribute all growth to any one program, there has been consistent student growth in both reading and math at DC nonpublic schools over the past 5 years. In New York City, we are also seeing similar student growth in these subjects.

Q. What recommendations would you give to LEAs related to this issue?

A. Many LEAs recognize the similarities and overlaps in these federal programs—and I’m talking specifically about Titles IA, IIA, IIIA, and IVA—so it’s important for them to find ways to map these overlaps to build in efficiencies for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. A comprehensive, nimble, and modern database system can help with both the internal and external efforts to monitor and evaluate these 4 programs. And a well-structured theory of action and logic model that is revised annually can ensure that they are collecting enough data and the right data to guide decisions.

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